Joe Davis is the first alum from either UW Tacoma or UW Bothell to be named president of 60,000-member UW Alumni Association.
Joe Davis graduated from UW Tacoma in 2016 but he’s perhaps never been more involved on campus than he is now.
Davis is president of the University of Washington Alumni Association’s Board of Trustees. The UWAA has more than 60,000 current members across all three UW campuses. “I’m the first president of the Alumni Association to come from either Tacoma or Bothell,” he said.
Prospective graduates receive emails from the Association in the days and weeks before Commencement inviting them to join. Davis was no exception. “I’m extremely proud of the fact that I graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma,” he said. “I wanted to get involved with the Alumni Association, but I wanted to do more than just sign up."
UW Tacoma has a staff member on campus who manages alumni relations (Thomas Duke held that position in 2016 and Chana Lawson has since stepped into the role). “I reached out to Thomas and asked about potential opportunities to get involved,” said Davis. “As it turns out, he was looking for a UW Tacoma representative to sit on the Board of Trustees.”
Davis agreed to be UW Tacoma’s representative. He didn’t know it at the time, but Davis’s decision turned out to be the first step in a long commitment to the Alumni Association. “It was important for me to bridge the gap between the Seattle and Tacoma campuses,” he said. “More importantly, I wanted to be a sounding board for UW Tacoma.”
Davis served in that capacity for three years. “I provided a different insight because everyone up there is so Seattle-centric, and that’s no shade at them,” he said. “They didn’t go to school here and I felt it was up to me to provide insight into the campus culture down here.”
When it comes to his work on the board of trustees, Davis kept busy. He sat on a number of committees and chaired the membership and business development committee as well as the race, equity and justice committee. “While serving as the UW Tacoma representative, I was presented with an incredible opportunity to present on behalf of the UWAA to the Board of Regents,” he said. Davis thinks the presentation was a trial run to see how well he did speaking in front of a large group. He must have done well. “The following year I was asked to transition from the UW Tacoma representative to the role of secretary on the Executive Committee,” said Davis.
A year into his time as secretary, UWAA board leadership asked Davis to consider eventually stepping into the president's role. “It’s a four year-commitment,” he said. “First you’re the vice president, then president-elect, then president and you finish as immediate past-president.”
This is Davis’s third year in the cycle. He took over as president on August 1, 2023.
“As president I represent the voice of the board,” said Davis. “I work closely with the UWAA’s executive director and executive management team on developing ways to meet the needs of our alumni across all three campuses.”
Ordered to Enroll
Born in Illinois, Davis spent many of his formative years in Arizona. The fourth of five siblings, Davis entered the workforce after high school. “I have a good work ethic,” he said. This diligence helped Davis. “I was working at a car wash and was asked to be the general manger,” he said.
While at the car wash, Davis developed relationships with his customers. “One of my clients owned a taxi cab company and was needing help,” he said.
Davis worked part-time as a cabby. One night he ferried a group of soldiers to their destination. “They were talking with me about the benefits of the military,” he said. “Their enthusiasm and passion for the military got me thinking.”
Davis enlisted in the Army the next day. He’s been in the military for 15 years, three of those on active duty and 12 in the reserves. “I went to Iraq as a solider,” said Davis. “While a reservist, I took a contracting job in Afghanistan supporting our service members that were deployed there.” In 2013 Davis was transferred to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).
Growing up, Davis says the topic of college didn’t come up much in his house. “We didn’t really talk about it,” he said. While at Fort Lewis, Davis developed a relationship with his platoon sergeant. “He asked me my plan for college,” said Davis. “I didn’t have one.”
The platoon sergeant pressed Davis and ultimately ordered him to enroll in school. “I marched down to the education center and got signed up because he told me to,” said Davis. “Until that point higher education wasn’t really on my radar.”
The then-twenty-something went on to complete his associate’s degree at Pierce College before transferring to UW Tacoma. “The University of Washington is a premier school and I wanted to be part of that,” said Davis. “I also knew as a veteran that UW Tacoma had a high veteran population.”
Davis started at UW Tacoma with the idea that he would either pursue a career in medicine or one in law enforcement. “The professors here, because of the smaller class sizes, were able to really give me the time and work with me one-one one to make sure I truly understood,” he said. “Organic chemistry and calculus weren't kind to my GPA, so my GPA wasn't competitive enough for medical school,” he said.
As he progressed through this degree, it became clear to Davis which career he would pursue. “By the time I finished my bachelor’s then went to med school and completed a residency, I wouldn’t be practicing until almost 40,” he said.
Davis ultimately graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary arts and sciences with a minor in environmental science. Besides building lasting friendships with students, faculty and staff, Davis also helped Dr. David Hirschberg conduct research for the Department of Defense and served as elections administrator for ASUWT during his senior year.
A Part of Himself
Not long after he completed his degree, Davis started as a deputy sheriff with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. A career in law enforcement is an extension of Davis’s commitment to service. “I grew up around the church and was raised to be helpful,” he said.
The father of two is entering his seventh year as a deputy sheriff. Although he is no longer a student, Davis says the lessons he learned in the classroom inform his work. “The classes I took in organic chemistry and biology helped me understand the impact of alcohol on the body and that’s something I see on a regular basis,” he said. “I took a course in environmental law and that grounding helped me understand the ins and out of legal language.”
Davis’s already-busy life — beside working and raising children he is also active on multiple boards of directors — got a bit busier when he assumed the role as president of the UWAA Board of Trustees. The crowded scheduled doesn’t seem to bother Davis.
“I’ve learned that you have to prioritize yourself but you also have to give up some of yourself for the greater good,” he said. “I am a man of religious beliefs and I am extremely blessed, and those blessings come from the sacrifices I make.”
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